Governor races

Florida candidate’s press for law opens immigration debate for Republicans

One Florida gubernatorial candidate’s proposal for an
Arizona-style immigration law is opening up an unwelcome debate
for other GOP candidates across the state.

Bill McCollum (R), who’s also the state’s attorney general, is championing a
proposal that goes even further than Arizona’s law by permitting judges to
take immigration status into account when setting bond.

{mosads}If McCollum prevails in the Republican gubernatorial primary, his position at
the top of the ticket while advocating for a law that might alienate
Hispanic voters could complicate matters for some GOP candidates. Florida
has the third largest Hispanic population in the nation and those voters make
up 14 percent of the state’s electorate.

Case in point: Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who is the
most prominent Hispanic Republican candidate of the 2010 cycle. Rubio is
a favorite of conservative activists and Tea Party groups in the
state, but he had treaded lightly on the immigration issue since
the enactment of the Arizona law.

In April, Rubio expressed concern over some aspects of the Arizona law and
he hasn’t weighed in fully on McCollum’s proposal.

A campaign spokesman said Rubio believes the best approach is for
the federal government to deal with border security and immigration.
He also called state efforts such as that of Arizona’s “a wake-up call
for Congress to get its act together.”

The Rubio campaign noted Thursday’s border-security vote in
the Senate was “a step in the right direction” and said Rubio
would have supported it. That legislation raised fees on corporations that
use U.S. visa laws to hire foreign workers and increased the number of border-patrol agents.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is waging an independent campaign for the
Senate, has come out against McCollum’s proposal. In an interview on
CNN earlier in the week, Crist said “I don’t like the Arizona
law” and made it clear he doesn’t support a similar one in Florida.

He suggested the law opens the potential for racial profiling, saying that
“the notion that you would pull somebody over because of how
they looked or how they appeared and based on maybe nothing else but
that” worried him.

A Rasmussen poll from July found 62 percent of Florida voters were in
favor of an Arizona-style immigration law for the Sunshine state. Just 24
percent were opposed.

One Latino Florida Republican who opposes the idea doesn’t have to worry about
reelection. A spokesman for retiring Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart told The
Hill the congressman is against McCollum’s idea.

His brother, fellow Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), also opposes McCollum’s
proposal. While Diaz-Balart said he supports McCollum’s bid for governor,
“I disagree with his immigration proposal and do not believe it is
the solution to our country’s broken immigration system.”

Mario Diaz-Balart is vacating his 25th district seat to run in the 21st
District instead, which is the seat left open by his brother’s retirement.

That leaves an open race in the 25th, which is likely to pit two Hispanic
candidates against one another in November’s general election. Neither of
them likes the idea of an Arizona-style law in Florida, but state Rep.
David Rivera, the leading GOP candidate in the race, is mum on the

Rivera’s campaign told The Hill the candidate is in the process
of reviewing McCollum’s proposal and “isn’t ready to comment on it
at this time.”

A campaign spokesperson did say Rivera thinks the Arizona law
has “served as a distraction” from strengthening border security
and cracking down on employers who “take advantage of illegal
immigrants.” Rivera backs a guest worker program, which many on
the right deride as amnesty.

The district is closely divided between the two parties — Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) bested President Obama there in 2008 by less
than 3,000 votes. The district is also 67 percent Hispanic.

Democrat Joe Garcia’s campaign sees an opening in Rivera’s reluctance to
denounce the proposal outright and rips McCollum’s idea as “an
even more harmful version of Arizona’s law.”

“Discrimination, racial profiling and making immigrants feel
unwelcome in America are not solutions,” Garcia said, ripping Rivera
for “trying to keep his job as a career politician while refusing to
take a stand on a tough issue.”

Supporting McCollum’s push for a tough immigration law is less of a reach
for someone such as GOP candidate Allen West, who is riding a wave of support
from Tea Party and conservative activists in his bid to unseat Rep. Ron
Klein (D).

“We have a creeping and serious problem with illegal immigration
in the state of Florida and it needs to be addressed,” West told
the Hill. He said the district where he’s running already houses
several “sanctuary cities” and said he fully supports a law like
the one proposed by McCollum.

If Florida does become the next national immigration battleground, it
only helps a candidate such as West, who is raising large amounts of cash
from conservative donors nationwide.

Klein’s campaign did not return a request to weigh in on the proposal.

Neither did the campaign of Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D), who is expected to
face a strong Republican challenger this fall. While the
Republican primary in her district is a crowded one, it includes one of
the state’s leading proponents of an Arizona-type law.

“I have not only said that I’m for this, but I’ve filed
legislation repeatedly for this,” said state Rep. Sandy Adams (R),
who has been pushing for a law similar to the one McCollum is backing
since 2007. 

Tags Joe Garcia Marco Rubio
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